One big mistake I see on some projects is that the project manager is diligent about creating an initial workplan (schedule) but then does not proactively manage the workplan during the project. Obviously, doing one without the other is a big mistake. The initial workplan will help you launch your project, but most projects are too dynamic to utilize the original workplan throughout the project. There are many issues that come up that require the workplan to be modified and updated.
Like much of project management, updating the workplan requires discipline and habit. On most projects, you can follow this simple ten-step process.
- Update and review the workplan with progress to-date. This is probably a weekly process. For larger projects the frequency might be every two weeks. A simple routine is to have the team members send you status updates on Friday with progress on the activities assigned to them during the week. The project manager then would update the workplan on Monday morning to reflect the current status.
- Capture and update actual hours (optional). If you are capturing actual effort hours and costs, update the workplan with this information.
- Reschedule the project. Run your scheduling tool to see if the project will be completed within the original effort, cost, and duration estimates.
- Review your schedule situation. See if you are trending past your due date. If you are, you will need to determine how you can get back on schedule.
- Review your budget situation. Review how your project is performing against your budget. Because of how financial reporting is done, you may need to manage the budget on a monthly basis.
- Look for other signs that the project may be in trouble. These trouble signs could include team morale problems, quality problems, a pattern of late work, etc. Look for ways to remedy these problems once you discover them.
- Adjust the workplan and add more details to future work. When the workplan was created, many of the activities that are further into the future may have been vague and placed into the workplan at a high level. On a monthly basis, this work needs to be defined in greater detail. You should always maintain a rolling three months of detailed activities on your workplan.
- Evaluate the critical path of the project and then keep your eye on it. It is possible for the critical path to change during the project.
- Update your project forecast. After you've updated your workplan to reflect the work remaining to complete the project, you should also estimate the cost of the remaining work. This is usually referred to as "forecasting."
- Communicate any schedule and budget risk. If you are at risk of missing your budget or deadline, communicate this risk to the sponsor and management stakeholders. You do not have to state that you will miss your estimates for sure. However, you should start to communicate the risk while you implement actions to try to get the project back on track.
That's it. If you do this weekly, you will probably find that this review and update process takes less than one hour per week — maybe only 30 minutes or so.